I had planned to write something before Monday about the surgery and my decision to have it. Because it was a crazy, big surgery. Ten hours long. Five days in the hospital. Six weeks of recovery. And some people (*cough*mom*cough*) kind of questioned if I should really put myself through all that. But of course a generation ago women didn't often get the opportunity of putting their bodies back together again. I consider myself very fortunate to have had my plastic surgeon on my team right from the beginning. It has never been a question of whether he would do anything, just what he would do. He has always been respectful of the second-place position of his role to my care. The first concern is always to save my life. His job is to give me my life back - which is never allowed to interfere with the first, but both jobs are way important in my opinion.
I love this quote from PJ Hamel on HealthCentral:
"Outwardly, reconstruction is all about looks–which doesn’t mean it’s all based on vanity. Any guilty thoughts you have about making this decision purely for “vanity’s sake,” get rid of them right now. Reconstruction (or no reconstruction) is really about feeling normal and healthy...It’s about being able to take your life back because you feel good about yourself, both emotionally and physically. It’s about looking in the mirror, and not wanting to look away because you see a wrecked, disfigured body, a body that makes you feel sad and ashamed."
PJ goes on to say that any decision - whether to reconstruct or not reconstruct can be the right one, as long as a decision is made and the patient feels good about it. So I made my decision, with my plastic surgeon's help, to go for a diep-flap, which is considered the gold standard in reconstruction. It is a biggie upfront (as I mentioned) but when you're done, you have all your own tissue - since they take your abdominal tissue to form breast mounds. Sweet, isn't it? The reason for the length of the surgery is that you are both a tissue donor and a tissue recipient. And frankly, what woman doesn't like the idea of donating her belly fat to a good cause?
In the days before the surgery, that ring of fat around my belly started to really bug me. Like a house guest that had worn out its welcome. And those expanders I've been wearing for the last eight months? You know, the ones I refer to "fondly" as my coconuts? Let's just say that my first thought upon waking, every single morning for the last forever, has been "one day closer to getting these out of here."
I'm not sure why I never got around to blogging all this before my surgery - I kept thinking it was because I was too busy getting things organized for me to check out of life for a few weeks. But also, I think I hadn't quite put my thoughts in order - I was having such a pull of emotions.
If my life were made into a movie, the last few weeks could be a cheesy montage of me growing my hair, growing stronger, and getting ready for the re-do. I felt so confident going into the hospital. I knew it was going to be a rough few weeks afterwards, but that after that I would be so grateful I'd done. I joked with the doctor when he drew lines all over my body, told him to make me beautiful. And it would have been a beautiful montage--I could just picture the ending, with me and my smoking hot new body running of into the sunset, my inch-long hair waving in the wind.
But sadly, the music came to a screeching halt Monday afternoon. One o'clock to be precise. I remember because the scene was with the patient in a hospital gurney, struggling to wake up from sedation, and trying to focus on the clock. It looked like it said one o'clock, but that couldn't be right. The surgery wasn't supposed to end until closer to six or seven o'clock at night. The patient (me) called to somebody walking by, "what time is it?" When the answer came back, "one o'clock", I grabbed for my belly, and realized it was still intact.
"What happened?" I croaked. "What went wrong?"
"What makes you think something went wrong?" The poor, naive little nurse-person said. "Everything's fine."
Well, I happen to be known for getting a tad bit emotional when I wake up from anesthesia, even when everything has gone according to plan. And this was NOT according to plan. I'm pretty sure I did my reputation proud.
Another nurse came rushing over to tell me that my doctor was in another surgery, but he would come talk to me when he was done. ANOTHER SURGERY??? My doctor is in ANOTHER surgery? This one was supposed to last all day!!! He CAN'T be in another surgery!!!! The nurse rushed off and returned moments later with the news that she had read my chart, and all she could tell me was that they weren't able to complete the surgery as planned, but that I still had the opportunity to go back another time, and in the meantime they had reinserted my implants.
Did you catch that? Because I did. They had reinserted my coconuts. Just put them right back in. As if that was okay!!! As if I wouldn't mind that they put them back again! As if that was even a possibility!
I'm not sure exactly everything that happened after that. I do remember being extremely unhappy that they not only couldn't produce my surgeon, but they couldn't even provide my husband. Something about rules. And I remember the nurse lady saying, "You do realize don't you, that your body is full of narcotics and that you're not behaving rationally?"
And I remember thinking right about that time that if my incisions were still fresh, maybe I could claw them open myself and take out those stupid coconuts.
That's about the last thing I remember. Apparently they decided I didn't have quite enough narcotics in my system.
The next thing I remember was waking up in another room with my husband sitting sheepishly in the corner. He explained as best he could how the surgeon had tried for hours to make the surgery work, but I had too much scar tissue from my open-heart surgery. The doc had warned me that might be an issue, but there was a back-up plan, which was blood vessels on the side. Turns out mine are unusually small, too small to graph with the bigger ones down in my abdomen. It's a fluke, The surgery almost never fails like that. But as you know, I tend to do fluke. My anger was gone, but I cried piteously.
The nurse in the room gave me this pep talk about how I needed to keep a good attitude. How's it's all in the attitude. I ignored her as best I could. After she left, Rob just sat quietly. He'd had a stinky day. Maybe not as bad as mine, but he could remember it all. And he's been through enough of my waking up from surgery's to know that the best tactic is probably just to stay quiet.
Only problem was, this was now officially my pity-party, and sitting quietly wasn't in my script. I wanted to him to fall all over me telling me how sorry he was. And he was just sitting there.
So I asked him to leave. He didn't even question me, just got up to go.
That wasn't in the script either, so then I asked him where he was going. (Don't you love drugged, disappointed women?)
"You told me to leave."
"Only... because...only because you're being... judgmental."
"Judgmental? I'm not saying anything."
"Exactly. I can see it in your face," I continue, partying hard. "You think I should be strong. You think I'm being a baby."
"I didn't say that. I didn't say anything."
The conversation went on like that for several minutes. I'd write it all out, but then some soap opera writers might just rip me off and use it in an up-coming episode.
I do owe my sweet hubby big time though. Poor guy.
The pity-party continued into the night and most of the next day. I was not a good patient. I am usually the queen of good patients, but I ripped off my leg-squeezers and my oxygen tube. I ignored my breathing exerciser. I even slapped an orderly who tried to take blood pressure on my bad arm in the middle of the night. One nurse did her level best to shake me out of it. Kept holding up a picture of my grandbaby. Telling me I had to keep up the fight. She kept the pep talk going right up to the moment that she loaded me in the car.
But I showed her. Showed 'em all.
They think they can send me home with coconuts and have me smile about it? I don't think so.
Funny thing is, I did know she was right, even while she was talking. It just felt like I would be a failure if I admitted it before I was ready. Now that I'm at the end of the week, most of the pain has gone, and I'm ready to start talking about my other options. I'm still not wild about the coconuts for three more months, but it could be worse. It could be way worse.